Friday, 27 April 2012

Rank Ordering of Hate in Hockey: Racism > Homophobia > Sexism

I thought it was awesome that the Boston Bruins organization issued a statement condemning the racist tweets by Boston fans directed towards Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals.

I was just saying to someone the other day how I thought one way to reduce the homophobic tweeting by ignorant hockey fans would be for an NHL superstar (or two or three, or perhaps a whole frickin' team) to step up and say, "Hey fans! We love that you're enthusiastic about our team, and sure, trash talking and chirping can be a lot of fun... but lay off the homophobic language. That's hateful and there's no place for that in hockey." I ranted about those tweets in a prior post, along with mentions of racism and misogyny. I wasn't surprised though, that nobody made an official statement about it.

Why are some forms of hate worthy of speaking out against by the NHL, and others not?

It's because we rank-order the seriousness of hate.

Racism is not okay. There seems to be significant consensus about this. In a LOT of places, if you throw out a racial slur in public, chances are good that people will speak up against it. Or at least send you enough dirty looks to make you think twice about doing it again.

But homophobia? "That's so gay." I hear this all the time. When I used to teach high school kids about sexual harassment and bullying, this was one of the toughest lessons. Labeling that phrase as homophobic gets many kids, and sometimes a few teachers, getting defensive and say things like, "but I don't mean it THAT way. I have gay friends/family/whatever!"

I always countered this with "If someone thought something was bad, and instead of saying 'that's so gay', they said 'that's so Chinese', would that be racist?" (I chose this particular example because I am Chinese-Canadian). Unanimously, the group would respond, "yes". Then I would ask, "so how is this different than saying 'that's so gay'?" Nobody really has a counter argument to that.

That example works because we have less tolerance for racism than for homophobia. This gets even worse with sexism, especially the more subtle kind.

I absolutely despise the whole "Sedin Sisters" thing. Some people argue that it's harmless, but you know what I hear when people speak derogatorily of the Sedins by calling them sister? It implies that sisters are somehow less desirable than brothers. It's an insult to my whole gender.

I can never decide, when an organization speaks out about one kind of hate but not another, whether I should be happy that they are speaking out at all, or if I should be annoyed that they aren't speaking out about the other forms. One could argue that, in the case of Joel Ward, there was a specific person that was being targeted; and that it was the right thing for organizations to speak up about it. Yet, given the statistics, it is impossible that there are no gay players at the NHL level.

There's a lot of discussion about when and if someone currently playing in the NHL will ever come out. Who can blame them for not doing so, given that so much homophobic attacks continue unchecked?

As for sexist bullshit, I fear that the likelihood of someone speaking out against that to be even lower, since there are no women in the NHL. I feel for the many girls and young women I know involved with hockey, to know that not only are there many logistical barriers that limit their participation, but so many social barriers as well; social barriers that nobody is doing anything about.

I feel as though I've been obsessed with the sociopolitical side of hockey recently, but for me, these situations are not separable from the actual game. Don't get me wrong, I'm all riled up for playoff hockey (and my team isn't even in it!), but I know it'd be more enjoyable if it wasn't tainted by all of this hate. Yes, I realize the futility of my optimism, but given the positive response of NHL players to the You Can Play Project, I still continue to hope that those involved with hockey, whether they are fans, players, teams, or the entire league, can speak up and DO SOMETHING about this. I am nobody, and I don't expect to instigate change; but there are many in positions of power, who by speaking a few words, whether in an interview, on Twitter, or on Facebook, can ask more from others and perhaps reduce the hateful behaviour. Hockey isn't the world, but wouldn't it be a great example if the hockey world came together to do something about this? Perhaps it would be something the rest of the world could learn from.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Hockey Fan Hate on Twitter Drinking Game!

I can't cope anymore. It just never ends. The shit people say on Twitter during, after, and in-between hockey games (I guess that means ALL THE TIME) is terrible. I wrote about the homophobia thing in a relatively thoughtful and lengthy blog post earlier this month, but I'm just so incredibly jaded by the ongoing abuse online. It's time to resort to alcoholism. So I wrote this drinking game to help us all cope with the hate.

All players pick a team (or for the epic version, just drink for every category): homophobia, misogyny, and racism.

Now open up Twitter, use whatever relevant hashtag is appropriate to access the latest Twitter conversation about a particular hockey game or series, and follow the instructions below:

For those on the homophobia team, take a drink for every tweet containing:
  • "fag" or "faggot"
  • "homo" when not referring to whole milk in Canada
  • references to one player fucking another or being fucked in the ass
  • accusations of "gayness" ("You're so gay", "that's fucking gay", etc etc.)
  • any other homophobic bullshit
For those on the misogyny team, take a drink for every tweet containing:
  • the use of "pussy" when not referring to a cat
  • insulting references to somebody's mom: ("motherfucker" or "mofo", etc etc.)
  • references implying women are weaker than men ("XX plays like a girl", "The Sedin Sisters", etc etc.)
  • references to rape ("I'm going to bend XX's wife over a table...", "XX is going to fuck XX's wife", etc etc.)
For those on the racism team: take a drink for every tweet containing:
  • a racial slur
  • statements about foreign players and insults to their native country
  • references to "your people" or "those people"
Regardless of team, drink for every tweet containing:
  • a death threat
  • a threat to personal safety
  • a threat to destroying another city/country

Seriously, if I had started doing this at the beginning of the playoffs, I'd be dead by now from alcohol poisoning. Yes, this "drinking game" is meant to be funny; but the fact is, the language people use is exceptionally hateful and each and every tweet spouting hate makes the world we live in that much more toxic. Again, I love trash talking with other hockey fans: but there is absolutely no reason it has to include language like this. Intelligent people can chirp without resorting to hate. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

How One Misogynist Tweet Restored My Faith In Humanity

"Fleury sucks, right? Fuck your mothers."

I saw this from one of my new Twitter connections; one that was made during the traffic from my last post on homophobic tweets by hockey fans. So I was a little startled. It didn't make sense; someone that bothered to make a connection after reading my piece about homophobia threw out an obviously misogynist hockey tweet? Huh?

I waffled for a few minutes as to whether I should say something. I decided to respond. (More about this shortly.)

"Dude... isn't a comment like that rather misogynist?"

I braced myself for defensiveness, possibly with a side of name-calling. Or maybe the classic "don't you have anything better to worry about?"

Instead, I got an admission that he was aware he fucked up, and a thank you for calling him out on it.

This made me insanely happy. I was bordering on giddy. 

Sounds strange, right? I mean, I shouldn't be happy that this happened at all.

Let's go back to my waffling. It seems strange (even to me) that a few days ago I could go on a long rant about homophobic comments on Twitter (which ~1,700 people read), and then hesitate to call out one person on one comment. But the thing is, this felt more threatening. As soon as I responded, I psychologically braced myself for a reply that was abusive and/or threatening. 

I don't think I'm alone in feeling like it is dangerous, if not physically, then at least emotionally and psychologically, to call people out on bad behaviour. Partly because it happens so darn much, and I think a lot of us have been socialized to focus on the negative feedback we get from people, and give it much more weight than the positive. The feedback I've received from the blog about homophobic tweets have been overwhelmingly positive; yet its the few negative responses I've received that I've spent a disproportional amount of time being bothered by. (When I think about it rationally, those criticisms don't make a lot of sense, and indicate that the readers missed the whole damn point anyways... so why should I care? Yet I do.)

There gets to a point when one's engagement with social justice makes it impossible to turn another part of yourself off. There was a time when I could stand up against a homophobic comment but still stay silent when a sexist one was thrown out there. Or fight for gender equality while at the same time using fatphobic language. But when you engage with these issues, eventually you figure out that they're all interrelated; that to participate in one form of hate holds you back from fighting against another. It's like the red pill of social activism kicks in, and you can never go back to living in ignorance. 

The problem is, there's no way to tell who's there already. So when I called this person out, I was bracing for the worst: that even though he was someone who'd take a stand against homophobia, he could still buy into many other forms of hate.

The best part about this story though: is he didn't. He got it. He didn't even need for me to tell him he fucked up. He knew before I responded; he admitted it out loud (er, out Twitter?), and in public (uh, Twitter public). 

And as a result, I feel safer to call out bad behaviour in the future. Certainly, there will be those who respond abusively; but this set a precedence that gives me hope. Sometimes, when you call someone out on something, it can actually show you that there's hope for change. 

Ironically, I'm pretty sure that even as I type these words, he's beating himself up over his comment. Before he signed off for the night, he said that he hated how this one horrible thing he said defined him tonight. 

Dude. That's not true. Yes, there was that one nasty tweet. But then there were the dozen that followed where you owned up to it, tried to make sense of what happened (without making excuses), and demonstrated, by example, to everyone who follows you on Twitter that even nice people say nasty shit, but the difference between the good and the bad is that you admitted you should have known better, and accepted full responsibility. To me, it was the follow-up statements that defined who you were tonight.

So to you, and to all those in the Twitterverse who shared my blog, thank you. You've restored my faith that my words have power; that it is worth it to put my thoughts out there, and that there are other similarly-minded people. That speaking out, while sometimes may result in shit and abuse, can also result in connecting with a community of people who share my frustration about the state of the world, and that makes me feel less alone. 

May we all be more forgiving of ourselves when we fuck up.

And may we all feel safer to speak up against all that's wrong in the world.

Good night. It's time to eat ice cream. :)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

How the LA vs. Vancouver Playoff Series is Breaking My Heart

Last year I cheered on the Canucks, all the way to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. 
This year I haven't quite chosen my allegiances, so I've simply been watching Round 1 with neutral interest in the game. 
But something happened yesterday in the LA vs. Vancouver series that broke my heart.
After beating Vancouver in Game 1 on April 11, @LAKings tweeted: 

"To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you're welcome." 

I laughed out loud when I saw it. That got @LAKings a follow from me, and perhaps tilted me slightly towards cheering for them in this first round. I mean, cheeky use of social media AND an 8th place underdog hoping to upset the President's Trophy winner? Sounds like fun! I'm relatively new to loving hockey, but one part I've enjoyed immensely is the chirping. (I'm an Oilers fan, so I'm used to having trash talked at me, since we're not exactly performing at elite levels these last couple of years). There are some teams that people just love to hate; in Canada that's typically Toronto, and that's reflected in the chirping. Every time Oilers played the Leafs this year, there were several people with whom trash talk was exchanged for the entire 60 minutes of play. With the Leafs out of the playoffs (no surprise there... stealth chirp! Ahaha!), Vancouver has taken the place of the "Canadian team we love to hate". All in good fun, or so I thought. 
I had heard on the radio and on all the sports shows that the Kings' tweet really pissed off a lot of Canucks fans, but I didn't read any of the specific tweet retorts. Then after Game 2 last night, @LAKings tweeted: 

"We apologize to anyone this tweet offends: #LAKings lead series 2-0." 

Again, from my perspective, hilarious. Certainly, I can understand it would be upsetting that the Canucks lost two in a row at home, but I always thought hockey upset was different than... real upset. Of course it sucks to have your team lose. But there are bigger problems in the world to worry about. Like racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Which brings me to the responses I found really upsetting:
"STFU U Faggot!! Its A 7 Game Series U BITCH!! PUSSY"
"@LAKings you guys are fucking retarded! Doughty an brown should have got the gate too. Kings lick balls! Eat a dick!!"
"@LAKings YOUUU FUCKEN CUNTSSSS go suck a dickk"
"#LAKings fuck you! Team consists of faggots, burn in hell. #Canucks will be back to crush all of you"

"Hey fag how much LAking dick you gonna suck in this series. You pathetic piece of shit. Your sister is a whore"

And the list goes on and on and on. @LOLVancouver RT's many of these if you'd like to see more. I found these exceptionally disturbing as to their hateful content. (They were also disturbing in terms of poorly constructed sentences and terrible grammar, but that's for a whole other rant).  

I can understand being upset, after the team you love loses two at home, and the other team's poking fun at you. I can accept that some people have the urge to tell LA to "fuck off" or "shut up". But why do people have to resort to a huge amount of homophobic slurs and sexist comments? 

How do you think it feels for someone who is gay to see these responses, as homophobic slurs were the most common? So much hate being communicated. I can relate a bit to the gendered slurs ("cunt" & "whore"), but having worked in violence against women, I've grown a pretty tough skin (but then, tough skin or not, why should we have to put up with abusive language directed towards anybody?). Do the people who tweeted these actually hate women, gays, and the developmentally delayed ("fucking retarded")? I hope not. But then... why would they use words this way?

I know, I know, some will claim the "free speech" defence. Someone always does. But free speech doesn't mean we're not RESPONSIBLE for the things we say, and their potential impact on people. I am "free" to tell my mom I hate her and wish she was dead (for the record, I'm using that as an EXAMPLE, I don't actually think that about her), but I'm not going to because that's really, really hurtful. In fact, when free speech is available, I believe it is the speaker's responsibility to choose wisely. You know, the whole Spiderman "with great power comes great responsibility" bit.

As Canadians, I believe part of our national identity is that we are, on average, supposed to be "nice people". There's nothing nice about what's going on here. As a Canadian, as a hockey fan, as a human being that believes the world has enough hate floating around already: this is unacceptable, and inexcusable.  

I also think that this does hockey a huge disfavour: with the recent "You Can Play" project, elite hockey players are speaking up against homophobia. There is a lot of talk about how it's troubling that in this day and age, there are still no openly gay NHL players. I can't even imagine what reading these comments would be like to a player who isn't "out", regardless of what team they're on (statistically speaking, if the NHL remotely reflect the general population, there's probably on average one or two gay players on EVERY team's roster). 

Before some of you resort to the "but when I call someone a faggot, it's just words I'm used to using, it has nothing to do with gays" or "but my friend/brother/sister/whatever is gay and they know I love them", please think about why the gay community (or any other group who has to put up with abusive language that's commonly used in society) should have to put up with your limited vocabulary. There are lots of other insults you can throw around, insults that doesn't come with the baggage of years of marginalization and persecution. You can be funny or angry or lash out at a hockey twitter account without resorting to any of that. 

Let's turn up the hockey cheering, and turn down the hate, yeah?

Note: Much thanks to George Laraque, Matt Moulson, You Can Play Team, Patrick Burke, Aishah Simmons, Not Another Hockey Blog, Puckdaddys, and many, many, MANY more who shared this blog.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A hopeful lefty: An oxymoron in Alberta?

This morning I woke up to no fewer than six different people having posted on FB lamenting about a poll showing a lead for the Wildrose

From the article: "The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday through an online panel of 1,050 respondents and shows the right-wing Wildrose at 43 per cent of decided voters, the PCs at 30, the New Democrats at 12 and the Liberals at 11 per cent province-wide. Of those sampled, 19 per cent were undecided."

Unless we can now force people to participate in online surveys, how is this remotely a random sample? In a first-past-the-post electoral system, and a poll of that sample size, this tells us almost nothing about the strength of individual campaigns. I've become generally bored of the endless stream of "polls" indicating this or that. From my perspective, they seem to serve no purpose other than fear-mongering (well, for those of us on the left, anyways; on the right the impact is more a call-to-action). This is problematic for me, as an NDPer, as the reaction of like-minded individuals seems to be hopelessness and despair, while at the same time it galvanizes the right (the PCs react to these polls with "oh my god, we have to do something to fix it" and the WR gains momentum). 

Perhaps I'm just weird, but I actually have more hope now than ever. There's vote-splitting on the right! Votes for the WR are certainly not being drawn from core NDP support; when I see a WR sign, I see that as a "not PC" sign. In some ridings, growing WR support may well contribute to an NDP victory. 

Now that I've brought up vote-splitting, strategic voting also needs to be addressed. I must confess: I used to be a believer. I used to think that a vote that didn't result in a winner was a wasted vote. But I don't believe that anymore, both logically and morally, because strategic voting is a compromise that pushes me to the right. Liberals in Alberta are, in my opinion, already further to the right than elsewhere in Canada, in part because they want to appeal to more voters. In the current election, they are led by someone who was elected as a PC! The NDP and Liberals in Alberta are NOT the same thing. Not remotely close. Certainly not close enough to justify "strategic" voting.

Is a vote for a candidate that doesn't win really "wasted"? On the surface it seems that way. But I think that each vote still carries weight, because the margin of victory and HOW the vote is split matters in terms of how a representative must respond to their constituents. Lets say a PC candidate is elected with 40% of the vote. I would think he'd have to work with his constituents in a different way in a scenario where 35% of the vote went to the Liberals and 15% went to the NDPer, versus if 35% of the vote when to the NDPer and 15% to the Liberal. I would go as far as to argue that the latter scenario forces the representative to accommodate more "lefty" concerns. By voting according to your personal political beliefs, even if your candidate does not win, your vote still has impact on how a riding is represented. It also indicates to the rest of the world that you will not compromise on your values.

Another problem with strategic voting is that it assumes that the quality of candidates are equal in terms of their suitability to represent people, and completely dismisses the fact that individual candidates need to EARN votes, regardless of party. I was recently involved in a conversation about Edmonton Mill Woods. Someone asserted that "the only choice if you want a non-PC MLA is the Liberal". (Full disclosure: I am working on the Edmonton Mill Woods NDP campaign for Sandra Azocar. But this blog and these views are my own.) Given that Weslyn Mather had already had a chance as an MLA for Mill Woods, and lost her seat to Carl Benito (and we all know how well he turned out), why on earth would anyone think she is well-suited now to represent the riding? In this article, Mather points the finger at her own supporters for her failure to hang on to the seat in 2008: "She blames her 2008 loss on supporters not bothering to vote." I'm sorry she lost her seat by a slim margin, but I think she needs to be taking responsibility for failing to get the vote out on election day. Each vote must be earned; to blame "supporters" for not voting epitomizes the stereotypes of politicians taking those they serve for granted. People don't vote because candidates don't give them good enough reasons to do so. I am really, really sick of the whole "let's blame it on the voters" excuse. Low voter turnouts are a systematic problem; a symptom of the broken political landscape, and "people not caring enough to vote" is a failure of all the parties to provide people a compelling enough reason to go to the polls. 

Someone recently joked (or at least, I hope it was a joke) that perhaps to keep the Wildrose out, a "strategic vote" may be one for the PCs. It's clear to me that this would be compromising ourselves into something unrecognizable. As progressive Albertan's we've compromised too far, and for too long. Come election day, I hope that each of us votes consistently with our values, because without those values, all hope really would be lost.